Volunteering for conservation of green space in our area

Chapel Hill town government has financed artists to beautify Bolin Creek pathways. Photo by: © Maria de Bruyn.


By Maria de Bruyn

One much-discussed topic during Chapel Hill/Carrboro’s last elections concerned green space — how much of it do we need and how best can it be preserved? The debate somewhat mirrored national and worldwide discussions as increasing numbers of people become concerned about how the loss of natural areas is affecting climate change and people’s health and well-being.

For example, a 2021 study of 1,000 European cities examined how close to green space residents lived. The researchers found that as many as 43,000 premature deaths could be avoided if World Health Organization guidelines were followed: there should be at least 1.23 acres of natural green areas within 328 yards of every home.

A volunteer at Bolin Creek cuts privet into pieces for the brush pile. Photo by © Luke Bennett.

Many people in Chapel Hill and surrounding areas are becoming more interested in helping to preserve and maintain green space. Some contribute financially to organizations maintaining area parks and preserves, while others roll up their sleeves and participate in restoring and rehabilitating the natural areas we still have.

The North Carolina Wildlife Federation (NCWF) has begun supporting efforts to eradicate non-native invasive plant species threatening the survival of native plants as well as some types of wildlife throughout the state. Their chapter for Orange, Alamance and Chatham Counties, the Tri-County Conservationists (TCC), aims to “promote environmental stewardship by providing the community with opportunities to restore habitat, connect with nature, and learn about topics concerning wildlife and conservation.”

In November 2023, TCC members planted almost 200 shrubs and trees to restore habitat badly affected by the emerald ash borer at the Brumley North Nature Preserve. The native plants added to this Triangle Land Conservancy preserve included bitternut hickory, hazelnut, pawpaw, swamp chestnut oak, spicebush, and hornbeam.

Volunteers at Bolin Creek after completing lots of privet removal. Photo by © Luke Bennett.

In Chapel Hill, the chapter has collaborated with Rewild Earth, an initiative led by Steven Feuerstein, to continue rehabilitating the Bolin Creek pathway. Rewild Earth focuses on the removal of invasive vegetation and the subsequent restoration of native ecosystems.

Rewild Earth opportunities to restore green space have included outings with UNC student service groups at the Community Center Park and Battle Branch Trail. Other conservation efforts have included Merritt’s Pasture, Morgan Creek, and Pritchard Park.

At the end of November 2023, TCC and Rewild Earth completed their fourth workday at Bolin Creek, focusing especially on the removal of Japanese and Chinese privet, which was overshadowing most of the native vegetation. Other invasives targeted include Russian and autumn olives.

Above: Privet overgrowth at Bolin Creek. Below: Forest floor open for native plants after privet removal. Both photos © Steven Feuerstein.

One of the regular participants in the Bolin Creek workdays is Luke Bennett, NCWF’s Conservation Coordinator for Eastern North Carolina. Bennett has already amassed many hours on trails through natural areas, completing both the 2,193-mile Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike and North Carolina’s 1,175-mile Mountains-to-Sea trail.

Bennett is the chapter liaison for the TCC and an enthusiastic supporter of Rewild Earth efforts: “I’m always blown away by the enthusiasm of volunteers and how much land we can reclaim for native species in just a few hours of work. Habitat restoration happens through action and our hat goes off to all the volunteers. They are the ones who keep the ball rolling. And they do so while truly enjoying and appreciating meaningful work outdoors.”

Volunteers with Tri-County Conservation at Bolin Creek. Photo by © Luke Bennett.

It’s not necessary to be an NCWF or Rewild Earth associate to participate in the two-hour sessions in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. You just need to be willing to pull up, dig up and chop up the invasive species and put them in brush piles which many wildlife species use as refuges. Age is also not a limiting factor – volunteers range from middle-school age to senior citizens, and each person can choose which tasks they most want to and can do.

If you would like to participate in the Bolin Creek or another restoration project, you needn’t bring equipment. Rewild Earth can provide loppers, shovels, saws, protective glasses and even gloves. More information about volunteering can be found here:

Maria de Bruyn participates in nature-oriented citizen science projects, volunteers for Mason Farm Biological Reserve, NC Wildlife Federation and the Orange County Senior Center, coordinates a nature-themed book club and posts on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/bruynmariade/) and at https://mybeautifulworldblog.com.

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